Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.
Who: Stephanie Burgis, an author we discovered this year after she contacted us about her middle grade historical fantasy series. We have LOVED both of her novels, and cannot wait for more from the incorrigible Kat Stephenson.
Recent Work: The second novel in the charmingly wonderful Kat Stephenson series, Renegade Magic, which Thea read and absolutely loved (it’s another book on the list of her favorite notable reads of 2012).
Please give a hand to Stephanie, folks!
I read a lot of great books in 2012, but when it comes right down to it, it has to be said: I love MG novels best, especially when they’re science fiction or fantasy. And there were two books that stood out for me this year above all the rest.
Caitlen Rubino’s Ordinary Magic is an MG fantasy novel set in a secondary world that feels very 21st-century – except that, oh, yes, people use magic for almost everything…and it was only 6 years ago that the new king finally made it officially illegal for the very rare non-magical humans (Ords) to be bought and sold.
Unfortunately, a lot of criminal adventurers have no interest in the law, and plenty of motivation for kidnapping child Ords to help them get through magical traps and defences. Therefore, a new school has been set up to try to keep young Ords safe and teach them life skills – both marketable skills, for trying to find real jobs as adults, and self-defence skills, to protect them against kidnappers and the various terrifying magical creatures, like red cap goblins, who consider Ords to be their favorite snack.
This book is really smart about social bigotry, but most of all, it’s just so much fun. What really captured me from page one was the vibrant, chatty voice of the heroine, combined with all the other fabulous characters and the sheer delight of the novel.
Abby Hale is a 12-year-old who finds out in Chapter One, with shock and horror, that she’s an Ord. So, that’s the fantasy element to her character. However, and more importantly, she’s also the youngest in a big, noisy, loving, annoying, wonderful family, all of whom – combative though they might be in other circumstances – come together in her defence when her magical Judgment puts her in real life-threatening danger.
Abby’s family members are all just fabulous, every one of them distinct and funny and great, and the dynamics are spot-on perfect. I loved them all so much, I wondered if it would be disappointing when she headed off to school…
…but it totally wasn’t, because I loved her school, and much more than that, I LOVED the characters there, including Peter, an extremely smart, grumpy, stand-offish boy (for completely understandable reasons) who becomes the perfect focus for a very, very sweet romance subplot. (It’s muted, as is totally appropriate for their age, but still totally sigh-worthy, and I can’t wait to see it develop in later books.)
I loved Ordinary Magic, and I am desperate to hear news of Book 2, soon! It’s my very favorite new fantasy series.
Jenn Reese’s Above World, on the other hand, is science fiction adventure told with all the mythic feel of epic fantasy. Readers get mermaids, centaurs, and flying people, but with a scientific explanation underneath – and such a powerful sense of wonder filling every single scene.
As Aluna and her best friend Hoku leave the safety of their underwater home to travel across a dazzling, mythic landscape, facing danger from every side, they take part in incredible action scenes, but also heart-breaking emotions and so many moments that made me suck in my breath in sheer awe as I read. Reese is so, so good at conjuring up incredible visuals in her writing – this book gives readers the kind of breath-taking vistas and heart-pounding action of the best fantasy films imaginable, but with rock-solid plotting and incredible characterization to anchor it all.
I could go on for ages about everything I love about this book, from Aluna’s strength and warrior mindset to Hoku’s wonderful geekiness and how well the two of them complement each other as friends (and how much I love the celebration of true friendship in this novel, as opposed to romance – but also how much I love the romances that develop for both Aluna and Hoku along the way!) – but to sum it up, here’s the review I wrote on Goodreads over a year ago:
Super-fun science-fiction adventure for kids, with genetically-engineered mermaids and girls with wings AND incredible fighting skills. Deep, important friendships and sweet first romance. This book has everything, and I love it so much.
When it comes right down to it, there were lots of MG novels I enjoyed this year, and several I really admired, but these two were the ones I absolutely, passionately loved. And the luckiest thing for me is that they’re both the beginnings of new series – my two favorite new series, as well as my favorite new books of 2012.
Because I’m friends with Jenn Reese, I’ve been lucky enough to sneakily read ahead in her trilogy pre-publication, so I can already tell you that Books Two (Mirage) and Book Three are even better than Above World, which is saying a lot; because I haven’t read any more Ordinary Magic books yet, I am dying of impatience.
Bring on 2013!
We couldn’t agree more about the awesomeness of Above World – and now Thea is off to purchase Ordinary Magic for review ASAP! But dear readers, YOU don’t have to purchase anything, because the lovely Stephanie Burgis is offering a giveaway!
We have ONE copy of Renegade Magic up for grabs! The contest is open to ALL and will run until January 6, 2013 at 12:01am PST. To enter, use the form below. Good luck!